Modern Lit: The Ice Queen, by Alice Hoffman

The Ice Queen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Ice Queen opens on a common domestic scenario, in which an eight year old, furious because her mother is going out for the evening, petulantly wishes she’d never see her again. Of course, wishing can’t make it so, but this little girl, an avid reader of fairy tales, believes it can. Her mother’s car skidded on ice, and heavily burdened with guilt, the child freezes herself emotionally, growing up a social isolate obsessed with reading and death. Years later, when she idly wishes she’d be struck by lightening, that’s exactly what happens. The Ice Queen follows her on her long journey as she learns to thaw, little by little, forgiving herself and embracing her life.

This is a very unusual novel, one in which the protagonist, who has become a librarian, is never named. She narrates her own story, which incorporates a cop who falls for her, her meteorologist brother Ned and his wife Nina, and a man called Lazarus, another lightening strike survivor who is literally her opposite, so hot that he can boil water by holding it in his mouth. There are several embedded mysteries, including Lazarus’s true identity and Ned’s sudden interest in fairy tales. There is much sensual symbolism, principally built around butterflies, oranges, the color red, but the central motif here is death and the struggle to come to terms with it. True to form, Hoffman’s prose is rich and beautiful. This book has been criticized as overly fanciful, but then, so are fairy tales. And along the way, we learn a lot about the after-effects of lightening strikes.

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